Read and live longer

i Mar 31st No Comments by

First published in the Trinidad and Tobago Newsday on Friday, November 18, 2016

SCIENTISTS ARE now realising that reading can make you healthier and increase your lifespan. In an Internet article posted on October 12, Honor Whiteman reported on a study published in the August Journal of Social Science & Medicine which states that reading books could increase your lifespan.

The study, led by researchers from Yale University’s School of Public Health, says that “adults who reported reading books for more than three and a half hours a week were 23 percent less likely to die over the next 12 years compared to people who didn’t read.” Researchers can’t quite figure out exactly why this is true, but they are searching for the answers. (On an interesting note, the report said that 75 percent of American adults have read at least one book in the past year).

Here’s what else researchers noted:

1. Reading reduces stress, which is responsible for about 60 percent of all illness and diseases. Stress raises the risk of stroke by 50 per cent and heart disease by 40 per cent. The study points out that stress bombards us from all directions every single day of our lives, and reading can be a major stress reducer. A study in 2009 conducted by the University of Sussex claimed that reading can reduce stress levels by as much as 68 per cent. One of the co-authors, Dr David Lewis, a neuropsychologist, says that just six minutes of reading anything – a book, a newspaper, a magazine – showed a measurable reduction of stress in people. There are other studies that back up these two studies.

2. Reading can slow cognitive decline: Readers, it seems, have sharper memories because reading is like exercise for your memory. A study conducted at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center with 294 adults who had an average age of 89 years proved this. For up to six years before their deaths, participants went through activities to test their memory. When the participants’ brains were analysed after their deaths, researchers found “…those who engaged in reading, writing, and other mentally stimulating activities in early and late life were less likely to show physical evidence of dementia…” Again, other studies support this finding.

3. Reading can improve sleep: Studies show that watching electronic devices before going to be bed can make it difficult to fall asleep, but a book before bedtime, the Mayo Clinic says, “can promote better sleep by easing the transition between wakefulness and drowsiness.” So, for all those people who give me the excuse “reading puts me to sleep,” the answer is this: it’s supposed to put you to sleep.

4. Reading can enhance social skills: I know that most people think of readers as nerds, but studies published in the journal Science seem to support my claim that readers are actually more interesting people than non-readers because they have more information to talk about. You could say people who read have more experience in dealing with people because they “meet” a variety of people in books. Readers also score higher on tests that measure empathy. Keith Oatley, the author of a study at the University of Toronto, Canada, says “fiction can augment and help us understand our social experience (better).”

5. Reading may boost intelligence: This point needs little if any explanation. When you read, you become more knowledgeable. We have known about the importance of reading from many ongoing studies since the 1950s when research has measured the benefits of reading in terms of academic progress. Now, it is possible for science to me a s u r e how reading actually affects our health. Reading really is a lifesaver.


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